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[SFFWRTCHT] A Chat With Author Myke Cole

As a security contractor, government civilian and military officer, Myke Cole´s career has run the gamut from Counterterrorism to Cyber Warfare to Federal Law Enforcement. He´s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Myke´s debut novel Shadow Ops: Control Point is out from ACE, the first in a trilogy of military epic fantasy. A fast-paced, dynamic, fun read, it´s gotten great reviews and notices since its release earlier this month. He´s an accomplished D&D player who managed to wrangle some big fantasy authors into a recent game at a Con. Find Myke online as @MykeCole on Twitter, via facebook or his website at

SFFWRTCHT: Where´d your interest in SFF come from?

Myke Cole: I’ve been into it since I could read. Started with my brother’s basic D&D set, graduated to comic books and paperback novels.  My parents kept waiting for me to grow out of the phase. I never did. As a child, as an adult.

SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of your favorite authors/books growing up?

MC: The standards: I started with Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, then moved to Xanth and Terry Brooks. Add to that mix – Tolkien, of course, Robert Aspirin, Moorcock, Saberhagen. All the classics.

SFFWRTCHT: Were you involved with cons and fandom? Cosplay?

MC: Just fandom, but I was heavy into the SCA for a bit. Almost got knighted in Atlantia. Gave it up to write.

SFFWRTCHT: What are your favorite D&D chars to play?

MC: Human Paladins. I did really well with a Wemic Fighter in one campaign I played with Peter V. Brett in college.

SFFWRTCHT: How did you get your start as a writer? Did you study writing in college? How did you learn your craft?

MC: I took no specialized writing courses other than Viable Paradise workshop. I learned it all on the job.

SFFWRTCHT: Where´d the idea for the Shadow Ops series come from?

MC: Working in the Pentagon and wondering how these bureaucrats’d handle magic. It crystalized on the ground in Iraq.

SFFWRTCHT: Interesting. Bet magic would have come in handy in Iraq. So if you were a character in your own novel, what power would you want?

MC: Not in the way you would think. More to deal with our camp 1st Sergeant than the mujahidin. I’d have killed to be fluent in all languages. That would have helped a ton. You need five Arabic dialects, Farsi, some Tajik and Pashto, Turcoman, Kurdish, French, Somali, Amharic, English, etc. I speak French, Japanese, some Arabic, some Mandarin, some Korean. My Arabic is MSA. Only write English though.

SFFWRTCHT: Speaking of Iraq. Tell us please a bit about your service. 3 tours of duty there, Coast Guard reserve, correct?

MC: My tours in Iraq were not as CG. First two were as a mercenary. Last was as a “paramilitary civilian.” Wore a uniform, carried arms, under the UCMJ and reporting to military chain, but DOD CIVILIAN on my chest.

SFFWRTCHT: You´re in the Coast Guard reserve correct? Tell us a little about your military service.

MC: Correct, and I love it. I started on command staff, and am now integrating into our small boat response fleet (SAR and LE).

SFFWRTCHT: In Shadow Ops: Control Point, you´ve almost created your own subgenre. No one has done this in 4th/5th generation warfare. Oscar Britton is an Army Lieutenant helping capture rogue magic users, aka Selfers, and has a fateful encounter with a sorcerer. Later, when Britton discovers he´s Latent and has Portamancy powers of his own, that encounter changes his life. Given the politics of Shadow Ops’ universe vis a vis magic, were you inspired at all by Marvel’s comics (Mutants)?  What about modern RPG games like Shadowrun?

MC: Hugely. There’s a ton of the X-Men in Shadow Ops. Shadowrun was definitely an influence, as was Warhammer 40k. Surprised more people don’t bring that up.

SFFWRTCHT: On a similar note, I wonder what you thought of Mark Millar’s War Heroes comics.

MC: Loved it. Really glad you mentioned it.

SFFWRTCHT: Why did you choose to write military fantasy rather than military SF?

MC: Because fantasy was always my thing. I like Science Fiction, but I was a fantasy lover first. I was working at the Pentagon and I kept wondering how they’d handle magic (they’re pretty rule-bound over there). What new rules?  If you think about it, most fantasy is “military” in some way. A Song Of Ice And Fire? Totally military. Lord Of The Rings—Battle of Five Armies anyone?  All I’m doing is modern military fantasy.

SFFWRTCHT: Is the reason why magic appeared in the world of your books a plot point in and of itself in the trilogy?

MC: A couple of people have asked me to write magic’s origin story in the Shadow Ops universe. No plans to do that yet.

SFFWRTCHT: Have you finished writing the trilogy yet?

MC: Almost. Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier (Book 2) is done and being edited. Shadow Ops: Breach Zone (Book 3) is a 50 page outline (so far). That’s just the start. It’ll probably be much longer before I start writing prose. The outline can be from 75-150 pages. But I have everything all planned out before writing a lick of prose. I’d be terrified of sinking work into a project and having it fail. These will come out a year apart. I am fastidious about meeting deadlines but I do want to say that quality has to come first. All my favorite writers are slow – perfectionists. Martin. Also Mieville, Brett, Lynch, Rothfuss. All of them are slow. All miss deadlines. It’s worth it.

SFFWRTCHT: Do I detect some military discipline leaking over perhaps in that penchant for outlining in depth?

MC: You do. In the military, everything has a plan, and there is constant awareness/feedback from superiors. Same here.

SFFWRTCHT: But have you ever significantly deviated from an outline?

MC: Happens all the time. And usually it requires major surgery. I threw out 113 pages of Book 2 at the finish line.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you multi-task, working on an outline while you write a novel (or other project) you’ve already outlined?

MC: Not really. I usually work on one thing at a time (each day). I do usually have Twitter/FB/E-Mail open though.

SFFWRTCHT: You said you profusely outline before writing a scene. Do you write short stories & do you use the same approach?

MC: I do write short stories, but it’s muchharder for me. And yes, I do outline there too. Meticulously.

SFFWRTCHT: Have you considered writing any ebook only works? Or do you want all your work in print?

MC: Interesting question. I guess it depends on where the market goes. The important thing to me is that it reaches fans.

SFFWRTCHT: I’ve heard you say you seriously want to try Romance as a genre one day. What other (sub)genres interest you to write? 

MC: Historical fiction would be a blast. And I’m not kidding about the romance. I like the challenge of having a book based solely on character interactions. Almost plotless. Romance (as far as I’ve seen) tends to be less “plot-reliant” than other genres. I think that’s great.

SFFWRTCHT: Paranormal Romance is such a big market. Why not Military Fantasy Romance?

MC: I think military fantasy would have to be more of an established subgenre first.

SFFWRTCHT: Straight historical fiction or historical fantasy (in the vein of Temeraire, one your favorites)? Which specific historical periods/cultures?

MC: I really want to do a retelling of Boudicea’s story, but it’s done to death. Ever hear of the Battle of Legnicka? Or Novgorod (Alex Nevsky)? Would love to hit that.

SFFWRTCHT: How much world building do you do in advance? You used real world cultures as a basis?

MC: Yes, Shadow Ops is extrapolated from extent cultures. That was a lot of the fun, imagining how they’d react to magic.

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us a little how the magic system works. There are various gifts which are legal and illegal, right?

MC: Right. There are 5 “legal” schools – the four elementals and healing magic. There are many more “Probe” (prohibited). Magic comes from an alternate dimension called “The Source” with its own fauna and flora. That sometimes bleeds over into our world and vice versa. Makes for some cool interactions. But the one thing you must NOT do is run and use magic on your own. Such “Selfers” are run down and killed.

SFFWRTCHT: In addition to real life warfare/personnel elements, your book has magic and Goblins and other mythical creatures. How do the Goblins and other mythical creatures come into it?

MC: A lot of that is bald nerd squee. I want to throw an Apache gunship at an ogre and see who wins. That’s just cool.

SFFWRTCHT: That is undeniably cool! Are there any farfetched fantasy/reality conflicts you decided were too weird to include?

MC: Hmm. I have a couple, but I might use them, so I am holding out.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s been the most unexpected thing about having your book hit shelves?

MC: The anti-climax. My life didn’t really change. I’m still broke and spend most of my time alone on Twitter.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you have to do much research for Control Point? If so, what topics?

MC: Tons. I’m in the military, but there’s a lot of aspects of it I don’t know that I have to write about.

SFFWRTCHT: How long did Control Point take you to write?

MC: Almost fifteen years. First draft (titled Latent) was written in 1998. Wrote another two books before revising it.

SFFWRTCHT: What is the easiest/hardest part of the writing process for you? strengths/weaknesses 

MC: Easiest? Coming up with cool ideas. Hardest? Revising finished first draft. It’s like wringing blood from a stone.

SFFWRTCHT: In our current anti-military culture, do you worry about the inclusion of real military themes scaring off readers?

MC: I wouldn’t call our current culture “anti-military,” but yes, I do worry it will lose audience for that (the cover).

SFFWRTCHT: What´s your writing time look like? Planned time? Grab it when you can?

MC: It *was* planned, until about a month before Control Point hit shelves, then the marketing machine kicked in. Now I grab it when I can, which is really hard to do. Publicity is a full time job.

SFFWRTCHT: Yes it is! Do you use any special software or music playlist?

MC: I write to movie soundtracks. Lyrics would distract me and the music puts me in a cinematic mood. Good for coffee shop.

SFFWRTCHT: What role has your editor, Anne Sowards, played in shaping the stories?

MC: Anne Sowards is great. She helps direct the stories without cramping my authorial voice. Sometimes she forces me to confront problems that I don’t want to face, but the book is better for it. Sometimes I disagree with her, but have to remind myself of her track record of picking winning horses. Bottom line, she knows what she’s doing, and I trust her.

SFFWRTCHT: What has proved to be your best publicity effort?

MC: Really hard to say. Probably my guest post for John Scalzi or my interview with Chuck Wendig.

SFFWRTCHT: How do you deal with writer´s block?

MC: By powering the hell through it. I either sit and stare at my computer or type drek. But I do not take a break.  I do not let it beat me.

SFFWRTCHT: what’s your best and worst advice for writers? 

MC: Best advice: Write Well. Improve. Stop worrying about anything other than Quality. Worst advice: anything else.

SFFWRTCHT: Favorite fantasy movies?

MC: Soooo tough. Return Of The King for starters. I count superhero movies too and really liked Iron Man.

SFFWRTCHT: Who’s your toughest critic? What makes him/her the toughest? 

MC: That would be Peter V. Brett. We’re friends so he can really lay into me, and he’s uncompromising about quality.

SFFWRTCHT: Ok I’m gonna ask a final question and we’ll wrap up. What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?

MC: Books II and III for Shadow Ops. I have a meda tie-in novellette on sub and another original series in the works. If fans like the Shadow Ops books, happy to write in that universe indefinitely.

SFFWRTCHT: Awesome! I really look forward to more. Was the media tie-in on spec?

MC: Nope. I’m hoping they like it enough to bring me into the stable. Fingers crossed!

SFFWRTCHT: How wonderful to have found a world you’re comfortable working in for the long term.

MC: Here’s hoping fans agree.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Rensick. As  a freelance editor, he’s editing Decipher, Inc.’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.